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Unique Partnership Saves Historic Diner As Possible Food Service Training Site

SAVED FROM THE WRECKING BALL: The diner on Route One that was recently named to Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered” list is lifted on pallets in preparation for its move to a mixed-use redevelopment site in Hamilton.(Photo by Michael Competielle)

SAVED FROM THE WRECKING BALL: The diner on Route One that was recently named to Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered” list is lifted on pallets in preparation for its move to a mixed-use redevelopment site in Hamilton. (Photo by Michael Competielle)

Wednesday is moving day for the aluminum-clad diner that has stood empty on the north side of Route One, just south of Bakers Basin Road, for decades. The vintage building originally located on Calhoun Street in Trenton is scheduled to make a short trip to a mixed-use redevelopment project in Hamilton Township, to start a new life.

The diner was named to Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered” list earlier this year. Situated next to the former home of Mrs. G’s TV & Appliance store, the building’s survival has become especially precarious as the land is cleared in preparation for a new shopping center. It is being saved and repurposed via a partnership between the developer Modern Recycled Spaces and Isles, Inc., the Trenton-based community development organization. Isles is moving its headquarters to the 200,000-square-foot mixed use site, known as Mill One, where the diner will be located.

The diner is being donated by its owner, SSL Realty Holding. Isles and Modern Recycled Spaces will raise funds to restore the building, which may be turned into a training site for food preparation services. “I have driven by the diner a million times over the years,” said Daniel Popkin, owner of Modern Recycled Spaces. “Because I’m involved with Isles, it seemed like a great partnership and a way to save this building.”

Isles president Marty Johnson said in a press release, “First, it’s important to save the diner from the landfill, and if we can bring it back to the Trenton area and restore it here, it’s a win for everyone.”

The diner has gone by various names — The Calhoun, the Cass, Giordano, Ben’s — since it was built around 1950 by the Mountain View Company, which produced prefabricated diners from 1939 to 1957, according to Preservation New Jersey (PNJ). From the 1920s to 1980s, New Jersey was home to at least six and as many as 20 prefabricated diners.

Referred to as the Giordano Diner by PNJ, the silver and green building on Route One is “one of the last of its kind,” said architect Jennifer A. Stark, who researched it for PNJ. “The mid-century architecture movement is really starting to explode now because of these buildings coming of age. It’s the modular aspect, the industrial Deco look, that resonates with a lot of people,” she said. “There were a lot of them, and this is one of the last ones.”

Bill Hotz, the developer of the shopping center to be built on the site, offered the building to anyone willing to have it moved. “It’s a great story,” he said last week of the partnership between Modern Recycled Spaces and Isles. “I know Isles and they seem like a pretty good organization. So if everything goes the way it’s supposed to, how great that the diner will be kept in Mercer County and repurposed for low income job training. I’m happy about it.”

The renovation of the diner fits in with Modern Recycled Spaces’ mission of restoring grand old structures into new spaces for start-up and creative businesses. According to Mr. Johnson of Isles, “The first step is to save it. The next step is to raise the funds and renovate it. We look forward to the chance to bring it back to a good life.”

 

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